International team joins Brazilian team to take Christ to communities through sport.
The Salvation Army sent two sets of mission teams with members from 10 countries to communities around Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the 2016 Olympic Games, one working Aug. 3-13 followed by another through Aug. 23.
Team members from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the U.S. worked with a Brazilian team of 29, including 15 cadets, three officers from the training college in Sao Paulo, two officers, six young people and three volunteers for administration and translation duties.
“The focus of [the mission team] has always been to impact the local neighborhood with the gospel and to make disciples for Christ using the tools of sport and play,” said Lt. Colonel David Bowles, Sports Ministry Coordinator for Europe. “Our goals have been to connect with people living around the corps, build relationships and keep those relationships growing after the mission teams have left Rio de Janeiro.”
Because local children had no school during the Olympics, the teams held programs in nearby parks.
“The kids come, the contact is made, the language barrier is broken by a ball, relationships are started and the gospel is shared,” Bowles said. “The formula is simple and effective.”
He said it is a fresh spin on the proven Salvation Army method of the open-air meeting.
The teams were split into three groups for accommodation, working out of Méier Corps/Education Centre, Bangu Corps and Niterói Corps to provide sport and Olympic-themed craft activities and games for local children.
At Divinéa Education Centre, four electricians who were passing joined in a game of soccer and also listened to the gospel message given by team members from Norway and Switzerland. At São Gonçalo Corps, where there are only a few young people, the mission team took to the streets with drums, musical instruments and flags to invite children to come. About 20 arrived the next day for a “mini Olympics.”
At Niterói Corps, the team was involved in a variety of programs already in operation, including ministry to prostitutes, a community party and blanket distribution to people living on the street. Children’s activities were arranged in a low-income neighborhood about 20 minutes walk from the corps.
Throughout the summer, the highlight for team members was conversations like Canada’s Lt. Juan Chirinos’ chat with a group of four boys.
“God created sport so we could have fun and enjoy a healthy life,” he told them. “God loves us so much he would do anything to make us happy. Would you like this happiness from God?”
They said yes, and Chirinos prayed with each one.